Ho-Ho’s Tree Under Threat

 

Not all of Henry’s life was fun and adventure – not by a long way.  He had his own set of jobs to do around the house and the garden and sometimes he had to sit and meet some of his mother’s friends and ‘be on his best behaviour’, and that could be terribly boring.

The jobs in the garden and greenhouse were nice really – they just took a lot of time.  Henry liked watching plants grow and change, watching over them as they burst into bud and then flower.  His favourite flower was the ‘white lapageria’ – a beautiful greenhouse flower that his Uncle Elgar had given him.  Uncle Elgar had a most unusual passion for the white lapageria and had somehow passed on his enthusiasm to Henry who had looked after it very, very carefully indeed; he had taken lots of cuttings and now had a fine collection of white lapagerias.  How he would have loved to show Uncle Elgar his collection, but his mother and Uncle Elgar had fallen out and had not spoken to each other for about three years.

Today, however, it was ‘best behaviour’ day as the vicar and Miss Didcott had called in for ‘afternoon tea’.  They went through the usual routines of saying how big Henry was getting and asked about his school and ‘what a clever boy he was’, (Henry knew the lines by heart), and then settled in to that boring chatter that made Henry very sleepy indeed.  Though he smiled and tried to look interested, his mind was elsewhere – at the seaside with Ho-Ho, re-living some of their adventures together and dreaming up new ones. “Yes indeed,’’ the vicar was saying between buttered scones, ‘’the Dawsons’ have a most beautiful front lawn, made nicer, methinks by that wonderful pagoda.’’

‘’Perhaps if a thunder and lightening storm started, they might go home,’’ wondered Henry to himself.

‘’Lawns take a lot of care to be in prime condition,’’ the vicar continued, ‘’a lot of care and a lot of planning ... don’t you agree Miss Didcott?’’ Miss Didcott did of course agree.

‘’Perhaps if I really concentrated I could make myself come out in spots and then they’d have to go home’’ wondered Henry.

‘’Lawns are so extremely English’’ continued the vicar, ‘’ we almost have a national duty to them.’’  He smiled at his own wit and the ladies smiled too.

‘’Or if a swarm of bees flew in to the house they might leave,’’ Henry’s thoughts continued, making him smile at the prospect of the grown-ups being chased by a swarm of bees.

‘’Ah,’’ said the vicar, noticing the smile, ‘’I see you appreciate humour, Henry.’’  Henry nodded.

‘’If I hadn’t been a vicar,’’ he droned on, ‘’I could have been a garden designer; I sometimes feel that one is closer to God when working with nature.’’ The ladies nodded at the vicar’s wisdom.

“Or perhaps if a mouse ran out from under the settee” mused Henry smiling to himself again.

“I see that amuses you Henry - the idea of your dear vicar becoming a mere gardner, but let me tell you, I’ve often thought about it.  For instance, your own front lawn with that unsightly damson  tree right in the middle; if I were you” he said turning to Henry’s mother, “I would dig the old tree out and replace it with…” he looked up, trying to picture the ideal replacement, “a small lily pond – with goldfish!”  He nodded wisely, convinced that his wisdom had more than paid for  the tea and scones he had just eaten.

Henry woke up ta this last idea.  “Mummy, I really really love that damson tree, p-p-please don’t even think about hurting it.”

“Don’t be silly dear, “said Henry’s mother, “the vicar is quite right, and certainly if the old tree doesn’t flower in the next few weeks, it will have to go.”

Henry was horrified and in spite of his mother’s instructions, rushed out of then room with tears in his eyes.

“Children these days“ said the vicar shaking his head.  “Now when I was a boy…….”

 

**********************

 

Later under the damson tree henry explained to Ho-Ho about the threats to have their very own tree removed.  The situation was very serious indeed.

“Whatever can we do Ho-Ho?” said Henry, very upset.  “If the damson tree doesn’t flower, they are going to cut it down.”

Ho-Ho looked very wise: “this is a tree problem” he said at last, “definitely a tree problem.”

Henry looked at Ho-Ho with disappointment …. Of course it was a tree problem.  Strange that Ho-Ho who knew just about everything said such simple and obvious things.  Then an idea struck him:  “Ho-Ho the very best person for tree problems is my Uncle Elgar; we must go and see Uncle Elgar.”  He clapped his hands with delight; if it was a problem to do with flowers or trees, Uncle Elgar was the finest man for the job.

 

***********************

 

 

Henry ran almost all the way to Uncle Elgar’s cottage, though it was nearly two miles from his own house.

Uncle Elgar was hoeing round some roses, but looked up and smiled as Henry came hurtling down the path.

He was very fond of his nephew Henry, and was only sorry that a silly family quarrel with Henry’s mother had kept them from seeing each other more often.

“Now calm down and tell me all about it, but very slowly,please!  Even your Uncle Elgar can’t make a damson tree flower over night!”

Henry explained slowly about the vicar and his theories about lawns and the damson tree.

Uncle Elgar shook his head; he truly couldn’t understand why Henry was so upset about an old tree.  However, if it was important to Henry, then he, Elgar would do his best to put things right.  But how could he go and inspect the tree without meeting Henry’s mother?  His mind drifted back to the argument which had led to the fall-out between them.

“You see Henry; I was the judge of a flower show and your mother – my sister, had a very beautiful entry, I can still remember it to this day; lilies and roses and so beautiful, the white lilies contrasting with blood red roses.  But the title of the section was “Unusual beauties in unusual combinations” and that is what your mum did not understand.  Of course, everyone thought her entry was by far the most beautiful; but Anthea Robotham’s ‘lapagerias and bluebells’ was far more unusual…. I really had no choice but to give Anthea the prize.”

A few things Henry had overheard now made sense; his mother calling Anthea ‘Elgar’s girlfriend’ and the like, pointed to her thinking that Elgar had shown favouritism at the show.

“Is Anthea your girlfriend?” asked Henry innocently.  Elgar burst into a loud and very genuine laugh, “Henry, Henry, Henry,” he said shaking his head and going quite thoughtful; “this is my girlfriend” he said waving his hand at all the beautiful flowers and shrubs surrounding his cottage, “and this is my real true love he said picking a white lapageria and holding it close to his tender gaze.

 

**************************

 

It had all been carefully arranged.  On Wednesdays, Henry’s mother went shopping into the city, and Henry had called Uncle Elgar to let him know that the coast was clear.  They drove round to Henry’s house in Uncle Elgar’s battered old van, loaded with garden implements and materials; Elgar often did gardening jobs for extra cash.

“Mmmmm” said Elgar looking up into the branches of the damson tree and stroking his chin, “very interesting indeed.”  He picked up a spade and turned over a piece of earth at the base of the tree, picked up a handful of soil, crumbling it between his fingers and sniffing.

“Yes indeed Henry” he announced, looking very wise indeed, “Uncle Elgar knows where the trouble lies.  You see Henry the soil is living stuff, full of tiny creatures and thousands and thousands of minerals – and humus.”  He was trying to impress Henry with his knowledge, but there was no need whatever; Henry was always totally in awe of Uncle Elgar’s knowledge.

“And this tree,” he said, gesturing to the damson tree, “is suffering from a deficiency – a shortage – of a mineral called magnesium!”

“But can you mend it?”  Henry asked a note of desperation in his voice.  Elgar folded his arms and looked up for a minute: “of course I can!” he winked teasingly at Henry, “would your Uncle Elgar let you down?”

Henry helped Elgar to bring some epsom salts, which contains the magnesium, from his van; they dug some shallow holes in several places around the tree and put in two handfuls of the ‘salts’ in each hole, finally covering them over as before.

“And that” announced Elgar, “is the problem solved; your tree will flower as normal in about 4 weeks; it already has buds on and it was just the shortage which stopped them from growing into flowers.  Now, Henry, show me around the garden.”

It was a delight for Henry to show his wonderful uncle around the garden, for Elgar seemed to know everything about every single plant – what each plant liked in the form shade, sun, moisture feeding; he was an absolute font of wisdom.

They finally came to the greenhouse where the white lapagerias looked even more beautiful than normal, as though they knew he that here was their true admirer.  Elgar was speechless.  His face changed colour and he had to sit down.  There were tears in his eyes as he shook his head.

“My lovely sister, my poor dear little sister” he whispered quietly to himself.

 

*************************

 

 

Things moved on nicely after that.  First a big van drew up to Henry’s house and a man in a uniform handed over a bunch of beautiful flowers to Henry’s mother; it was the biggest bunch of lilies and red roses that Henry had even seen.  When she read the note attached to them Henry’s mother seemed very deeply moved.

Then came the miracle; the damson tree burst into flower and Henry burst into the house to tell his mother the good news.  He was breathless with excitement and accidentally let is slip about the help he had received from Uncle Elgar.  He realised his mistake too late, but there was no turning back now. Defiantly he said: “Uncle Elgar is truly wonderful and I love him!” said Henry.

“So do I,” said his mother quietly and almost as if it had been deliberately timed, there was a knock on the front door.  Henry left brother and sister embracing as he went out through the back door.

 

**********************

 

 

Henry and Ho-Ho sat under the flowering damson tree drinking their orange.”…so you see, Ho-Ho, all the damson tree needed was some magneesijump” Henry said importantly, getting his words wrong as usual.  Ho-Ho nodded.

“One thing puzzles me, Ho-Ho,” he said looking at his friend quizzically, “you are the cleverest and wisest friend in the whole world, so you must have known what was wrong from the very start.”

Ho-Ho nodded matter-of-factly.  “So why didn’t you tell me when I first asked?”

Ho-Ho thought for a while: “sometimes things seem broken and impossible when the answer is very simple, said Ho-Ho, stating the obvious as usual, “you needed the right answer… from the right person… at the right time.”

Henry thought about his mother, Uncle Elgar, the lapagerias, the roses, the lilies and the damson tree and understood in a strange deep way that his friend was right.

“Besides,” went on his friend, “whoever would have believed an elephant!”

The two friends laughed until the tears rolled down their cheeks.

 

 

 

©bernard shevlin

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